family

Relatives. Related. Relating. Relate.

Brother, father, me. Relating
Brother, father, me. Relating.

I was homesick and I didn’t even know it.

It had been a few years since I’d visited my hometown of Chicago. My fiancé had never been, and I longed to see my family, to introduce my dad to my future and final husband. It was time.

When I moved to Dallas sixteen years ago with my then-husband (still family) and our three year-old daughter, it was with the intention of “trying it out for a year.” We are all still here.

Dallas has been good to me.  I have grown, I have built a career, I have raised a daughter. I have started companies and taken risks and discovered dreams and released other dreams.

I have fallen deeply, wildly in love with my perfectly imperfect life, in a rich and complicated way here. I belong here.

Yet, in my reinvention, in my “belonging here”, I had also detached from my origins. I had forgotten where I was from.

Sure, I “knew” where I was from, but existing a thousand miles away in a self-created family, in a life full of meaning, adventures, fun, distractions and excuses, I’d found it easy to almost act as if I had no family of origin at all.

It kills me to say that out loud, when I love my family of origin very much. I know I am related TO them. But the truth is, I haven’t been very good at being related with them. As I think about the word “related”, it’s not just semantics, not just a matter of blood and DNA, there is something active and engaged about the idea of being related to. It’s also about relating.

What happens when we fail at relating with our related? The babies turn into kids, the kids turn into adults. There are divorces, deaths, weddings, funerals, more babies. When you leave your place of origin, and do a lousy job of staying in touch, life goes on without you. But even worse, even worse than missing birthday parties and barbecues, is the longing, the longing you might not even be able to name.

The longing to know and be known, to see and be seen, in a way that only family can do. These are, after all, the ones that were there all along. The ones that “knew you when.”

That I have siblings I don’t know, as they become adults, I am ashamed. Not only because I don’t know who they are, but because I have failed at knowing them. I’m not gonna lie, I have sucked at “doing” family. Especially the long-distance kind. For a variety of reasons, some elaborate, some nothing more bullshit excuses, I have been able to justify my gross negligence.  I’m done making excuses for my distance and detachment.

This visit brought me home. Not just to a physical place, but to myself, to the roots of my existence, to the love and belonging I cannot ignore, because it is the very blood that flows through me.

Spending quality time with my dad, my siblings, cousins, grandma, nieces, aunts and uncles was a gift bigger than I had expected to receive.

My dad’s hair has silvered since my last visit. His eyes have grown softer. His smile is brighter, it seems, and his voice is kinder than I remember.

My baby brother is nearing middle age, like me. Without me.  For hours the other day, we pored over coffee and pie and truth-telling, searching each other for the answers to life’s mysteries. Just like always.

The bond we three share cannot be broken, and I am grateful for one more chance to hug them both.

My youngest brother is a man now. My little sister, a woman. They are strangers. Yet they are not, because we are related. We share the blood of the same father. I hardly know what they are like. But the love. The love is there.

Time has been slipping away while I have conveniently forgotten birthdays and holidays and this isn’t the blog I started out writing, I’ve digressed into a vulnerable place, but it’s what’s true and real for me. And if I can’t give you that, then we have nothing, right?

I want to be better.

I am willing and prepared and perhaps, finally mature enough, to exert the effort it requires to show that I give a damn, to reach out, to acknowledge, to not just love in feeling and thought, but in action. Love is a verb, they say.

I’m scared, I’ve gotten away with my detachment for so many years. Now I am calling myself to a higher standard and it requires me to grow up, to commit. It’s frightening to love with more than words and thoughts.

At the end of the trip, getting home to Dallas felt so good. Yes, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and missed my bed, I missed my comfy, cozy life.

But going home to Chicago was medicine I didn’t even know I needed.

It helped me to remember who I am, and what is most important to me.

Love.

And relating.

 

 

What My Mother Taught Me

My mom, Madeleine, around 23 years old, 1975-ish.
My mom, Madeleine, around 23 years old, 1975-ish.

It was 1981. My mother had spent days, weeks maybe, countless hours, creating her own unique pieces of Barbie furniture.

Unlike the pink plastic and fake looking furniture sold by Mattel, these creations were so realistic… the couches had wooden frames and fabric cushions, and throw pillows stuffed with real fluff. The beds had comforters, soft mattresses. There were even small potted plants in hand-painted miniature flower pots, because as we all know, Barbie loves to decorate.

This was just one of the inspired creative endeavors my mother undertook during my childhood. She hammered and sewed, stuffed and painted, working tirelessly to create enough inventory for an upcoming local craft fair.

We practiced various set-ups, arranging the selections in mock rooms, like a miniature furniture store. We even positioned Barbie dolls in various configurations, sitting on the couches, for added flair. I was to be her assistant. She trained me to handle customers.

We showed up for the busy holiday bazaar, ready for certain fame and fortune… and…nothing happened.

Yes, many people stopped by to notice, impressed by this new take on Barbie furniture, but by the end of the long weekend, my mom hadn’t sold a single piece.

As a ten year-old child, with quite an impressive array of assorted crushing rejections under my belt, this felt devastating. To me it seemed like utter and hopeless rejection from the world-at-large.

But while my mom seemed a little disappointed, she let it roll off of her, and quickly moved on to other projects. And I was the proud owner of a TON of handmade Barbie furniture.

Without realizing it, I think, she had taught me an important lesson, one that I only just recently made the realization of.

She taught me that creative risks are brave.

She taught me that so-called “failure” can be spun into a new story.

As soon as that fair was over, she seemed “over” the whole Barbie furniture thing. Perfect timing.

She taught me the value of creative experimentation, and how it always leads forward, no matter what the specific outcome of each experiment.

The more I think about it the more I realize, she was always doing this.

When I was very little, around three or four, she convinced the principal of the inner city high school my dad was a science teacher at to allow her to start a drama club for the students.

My mom, barely 21 years old, a high school drop-out! There she was, teaching drama to city kids, producing full-blown shows and plays that she wrote, directed and choreographed herself. Talk about risk-taker!

When the PTA needed a program designed for the fashion show, my mom designed it, drawing for hours til she got it right. She played guitar for sing-alongs at girl scout meetings. She decorated with a passion. We had a disco in our family room, for goodness’ sake. She became a graduate of Clown College and was a professional clown for years. She was an actor, a singer, a musician.

To say my mother was the most creative risk-taker I’ve known would be putting it lightly.

I marvel at the way she so boldly put herself out there.

I realize through her example and influence, I imbibed that same spirit, for I look at my life now and realize it is a collection of creative risks.

This is the only way I know to be.

Because of  her.

And now, as my daughter, my only child, ventures into her adulthood, testing the waters, seeing what the world has to offer, wondering where she fits into it… she too is putting herself out there, bravely taking creative risks. The legacy lives on.

For sake of honoring her privacy, I won’t tell you much about my mom’s life these days, but I will tell you that she still requires a great deal of bravery, now just for the getting through of each day.

Her life has been a series of setbacks, losses, challenges and struggles. And still, she faces the day. Still she courageously survives.

She is still teaching me what it is to be brave.

Thank you, Mommy.

Because of you, I am me.

Happy Mother’s Day

p.s. Mom, you finally got your blog. 🙂